Matthew 4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
The Power of “Wait a moment!” Part 2
Two weeks ago, I shared this scripture with you all about the temptation of Jesus. Because I could not finish it at one time, today I will share the second part of this topic.
Why do I spend so much time on this topic? Because the temptation of Jesus is closely linked with our destiny.
As long as we are alive, temptation will come to us every day, but just like Adam and Eve, most of the time majority of us cannot defeat it. That’s the reason why we have no happiness. However, Jesus is different. He defeated it completely, so that He can bring to us hope and the methods to defeat our temptations.
When Satan tempted Jesus, he found that he cannot corrupt Him like he did to all other human beings. This world that was created by God became imperfect because of the sin of Adam and Eve, but through the victory of Jesus over Satan God can re-create anyone, making us a new creation, so then we don’t have to share the same fate of our ancestors. This is the redemption, which we call the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The author of Hebrews explained the significance of the temptation of Jesus. Hebrews 4:15-16, 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus is our high priest, which means He represented us as the tempted and defeated the temptation with the same weak flesh and blood as ours, so that we can find in him comfort, grace and strength.
That is why we must spend so much time studying the temptation of Jesus, for we can learn how to defeat the temptation.
Before I begin, I want you to listen to today’s sermon with a question. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray in this way to God, “Do not lead us into temptation.” Does this mean that only if I pray eagerly, I will not be tempted? Because Jesus had been tempted for us, then it’s not necessary for me to be tempted? In other words, if God loves us, will He protect us from all temptations? Please listen to today’s sermon with this question in mind.
Two weeks ago, I introduced a book to you, called “The 7 Habits of the Highly Effective People”. Its author is Stephen Covey. Today please allow me to introduce another book to you. This book was written by the son of Stephen Covey: Stephen Covey. Yes, they have the same name. It’s very rare in China that father would name his son with the same name as his, but it’s very common in Western culture. And this book is also very well-known, called “The Speed of Trust”.
In this book, the author thinks the scarcest resource in this world is trust, and the lack of trust is the root of all problems.
He thinks, low trust will cause many unnecessary conflicts between people, so the lack of trust is the biggest enemy of personal life, families and organizations. Lack of trust will change communication into a mode of attack and defense, so that interpersonal relationship becomes complicated. Low trust also makes it easy for us to divide people into allies or enemies. We then begin to unconsciously collect other people’s weakness and defects, and hesitate to open our hearts to share with others. You often feel being misunderstood and then you are left to be a lonely fighter.
However, when people can trust each other, it will be totally different. The conversation could be frank and relaxed, you don’t need worry about speaking wrongly. You don’t worry about getting along with people, for even without any intentional effort, people can become friends. You will unconsciously pay attention to other people’s merits and strengths, and then you can proactively and passionately cooperate with them. Isn’t this the perfect relationship and workplace environment that everyone dreams for?
But, I still have to say, this book is full of methods and notions, and doesn’t tell us where the trust originally comes from. If there is not a faithful and trustworthy God, it’s impossible for people to trust each other. If the trust is the scarcest resource in this world, so this book is telling us from another perspective that the scarcest resource in this world is faith in the true God.
And here is the second temptation Satan put on Jesus.
Last time we talked about the first temptation.
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
Jesus had the ability and freedom to do this, but He had already humbly chosen to become a man.
So he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
When Satan learned what supported Jesus was the Scripture, he immediately adjusted his strategy and started the second round of temptation.
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
I am certain that those of you who have children, what your children might do can make you the most-angry parent in the world. For me, what hurts me the most or what I cannot accept at all is my son lying to me. The reason I get angry and hurt is when he does something wrong, and he supposes that if he spoke frankly, I would not forgive him. I feel sad not because he did something wrong, but because he misunderstands his father. My love and grace was denied by him, which is most heart-breaking.
Likewise, what hurts our Heavenly Father the most is also our misunderstanding of Him. Both Cain and Abel offered sacrifice to God, but why did God prefer Abel’s? Because Abel knew God’s heart, he knew God would see His own suffering son as He saw the sacrificial lamb, but Cain only offered to God what he liked the most. When God came down to destroy Sodom, Abraham tried his best to intercede for the Sodomites. Was he disobeying God’s will? No. instead, Abraham knew God’s heart. He knew “The Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression.”
That’s why Abraham is called as God’s friend. When we understand God’s heart, God will keep us in His heart. However, when we misunderstand God, God’s heart will be hurt by us.
Only if we totally believe that God is totally trustworthy, then we are able to trust each other and have mercy on those who hurt us. There are too many poor people in this world who cannot walk out from the pains of their childhood or their past. They are still living with the scars. Because they were distrusted, now they also lose the ability to trust others.
Only when our scars get healed in Jesus’ grace, we can offer grace and trust to others, we can give the opportunities to others. If we want our church to grow, all of us have the responsibility to nurture a trusting environment, with a forgiving communication mode. Each of us can keep our difference and try not to change others. In this safe and accepting atmosphere, we can put off armor and disguise. When our hearts can get closer, even though the differences still exist, we can get along well and even talk about the differences. That is family!
Our faith is often misunderstood as a religion, a system of morality, a worldview, but in fact our faith is not that complicated, it is just a relationship, between you and Jesus. Therefore what we need to do every day is to get closer to Jesus in prayer, experience Jesus in our daily life, and know Jesus during our sufferings. When we have a good relationship with Jesus, and this relationship can be reflected in our relationship with other people, then we can be called as Christians.
The second round of Satan’s temptation is trying to destroy the relationship between Jesus and God. How?
He placed Jesus on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.”
The holy temple is very high, if someone jumps from the top, he would die. But Jesus is not everyman, He is the Son of God, and God will protect Him. So go ahead and jump! When the people see you safely get down to the ground, all of them would worship you as the Messiah.
If you still remember Satan’s first temptation, you will find that every time Satan starts with the same sentence: “If you are the Son of God…”
Satan here did not doubt Jesus’ true identity. He knew who Jesus was. Therefore this sentence should be interpreted as “Since you are Son of God….”
All of Satan’s temptations started from Jesus’ identity.
Last time we said, Jesus has a dual identity. He is the Incarnation, both God and man.
Satan’s two temptations both aimed at Jesus’ two identities. From this perspective, the temptations Jesus had to face were very unique. No one else will be tempted in this way.
Jesus’ first temptation is to test His human side; Jesus’ second temptation is to test His God’s side.
Let me explain:
If Jesus was not willing to leave His position as God and humbly became a man, then He cannot become our savior. This is the key point Satan wanted to tempt Jesus in the first temptation. He tempted Jesus to change stone to bread, that is to tempt Jesus to use His supernatural power to serve His own flesh’s need. If Jesus did change stone into bread, that means Jesus rejects to be just man, so then He is not qualified to be our savior, and Satan wins.
On the other hand, Jesus is also a man. He was born and grew up day after day just like us. If during these days he didn’t connect with His heavenly Father at every moment, then he would lose his God identity and become a mere mortal, therefore He again cannot save us. This is the second key point that Satan wanted to tempt Jesus in the second temptation. He tempted Jesus to jump down from the temple, in order to prove that He is the Son of God. If Jesus jumped, no matter whether or not God would catch him, then he would not be God any longer, for God does not need to prove Himself to be God, God would not test Himself. The Father and Son are one. If Jesus jumped, He would not be one with God, He would not be able to save us. Instead, He will die the same as all of us.
After we understand what kind of temptation Jesus was facing, we can better understand what risk and suffering Jesus had to bear for us when He came down to this world to save us.
Actually Jesus had to face these kind of temptations every day while He was in this world. Now I can understand what sufferings Jesus was taking before He died.
The Passion Day, Good Friday or Black Friday is coming. Here let’s try to understand the sufferings Jesus bore for us.
Before Jesus was arrested, He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.
When Jesus was on the cross, it is written in Matthew 27:45-46: From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Why Jesus was in so much pain, not because of physical pains and the people’s insults, but because His heavenly Father forsook Him. This made Jesus painful, this is the thing that Jesus cannot bear. Why did God forsake Him? Because when He was hanging there on the cross, He was bearing all the sins of humanity, He became the scapegoat for all sinners, which cannot be acceptable by God. Therefore the darkness came over the whole land, for God had totally forsaken Jesus. Prophet Isaiah saw this 600 years ago, so he wrote: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin.”
So when we face temptation and stimulation, before we sin and fight back, we need talk to ourselves, “Wait a moment!” The Holy Spirit will show us the costs and pains that Jesus once bore for our sins. Then we will not sin against God, we will not retaliate against those who stimulate us.
In this respect, Jesus is our best example. By what did Jesus conquer Satan’s temptation in the wilderness? By what could Jesus tolerate the suffering when His Heavenly Father forsook him on the cross? By faith, which is formed in our every day’s walk with God! He trusts His heavenly Father will never leave Him as an orphan. He would not doubt God in any situation, even when God forsook Him on the cross, there is no doubt in Him. For Jesus, God’s love and protection is beyond all doubt, so He can answer Satan in this way, “it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Sisters and brothers, God’s promise can be converted to our life blessings through our faith. If we doubt God, Satan will make use of God’s promise to tempt us to test God. When we try to prove God’s presence and love because of our weakness, God will leave us, for God can only be with us in our faithfulness to Him.
The true faith is not like God gives response to our every prayer. The true faith is when there is no response, when God is silent, when our situation does not turn better, yet we are still unstoppable, and we still believe God’s presence and salvation. Only if we trust God to the end, then God will save us in the end.
This is the significance of temptations for Christians. Christians must experience temptation, and through it, learn to hold God’s invisible hand by faith. So then we can become the new creation.
This can answer the question I asked when I started this sermon: why did Jesus teach us to pray this “Do not lead us into temptation”?
In fact, we misunderstand this prayer. What we often really pray to God is not ‘Do not lead me into temptation’, but ‘Lord, do not lead me into suffering and stimulation.’
But this is impossible. What Jesus really meant is, when we are facing people’s stimulation or life’s sufferings, then through Jesus’ help, by trusting God is always faithful, all these stimulations and sufferings won’t be transferred into temptation, instead we may have no reaction to them, like what Jesus said, “The ruler of this world is coming. He (Satan) has no power over me.”
Finally let’s see the third temptation, which will encourage us to understand that Satan’s temptation is nothing!
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Now Satan showed himself in his true colors. Through the first two temptations, Satan knew it is impossible for him to defeat Jesus, so now he decided not to hide any longer. He tried to make a deal with Jesus. When one tries to seduce you by making a deal with you, then you can know who this one really is.
Satan said, all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor were given to him, and he can give to whomever he likes. If Jesus will fall down and worship Satan, all of these kingdoms will be given to Jesus.
What really are all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor? Power!
What Satan really wants to give is power, the power to control this world.
Satan wants to use this power to control the world in exchange for Jesus’ surrender, but if Jesus surrenders and worships Satan, then the power to control this world is still in Satan’s hands. Cannot Jesus see this trick?
This means that at this moment, Satan has become burning with a frenzy of rage. When one gets angry, his IQ decreases. The same is true for Satan.
This world is founded on power. It’s hard for anyone to resist the temptation of power. Not everyone has the ability to control power, that’s why this world is full of conflicts and wars. But God’s kingdom is not built on power. The church is God’s kingdom on the earth, so Jesus Christ’s church is also not built on power, but rather on truth and love. Jesus came to this world to build God’s kingdom, not man’s kingdom, so He doesn’t need the power given by Satan.
The question is that this power was never given to Satan. Jesus said Satan is a liar from the beginning. The way he seduces us is to promise something that he doesn’t really have. Unfortunately, too many people believe him. For example, Adam and Eve believed him, supposing they could get wisdom by eating of the forbidden fruit, but instead only pain and death.
That’s why Jesus answered: Go, Satan, for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’
So now Satan was totally defeated. Jesus defeated him here in the wilderness first, then defeated him again on the cross.
Jesus told his disciples this story, so that the disciples can write this down and pass it onto us. Jesus tries to tell us that Satan is actually not that powerful and unbeatable as we had imagined. He is just a liar, he has no any power to hurt us. What he is doing is that when we get weak, he tries to blind our eyes to not see God’s love and grace.
Sisters and brothers, why were we tempted by Satan? Because God wants us defeat Satan. Through defeating the temptations with Jesus, we will believe the temptations can be totally defeated. We need not fear Satan, he is nobody; he is just a poor clown. In our secular life, we need to experience success; likewise, in our spiritual life, we also need experience success.
At last, let me share a story of Martin Luther.
When Martin Luther was young, he was a monk in the monastery. During the daytime, he was a pious monk, but at night, he often locked himself in a dark room, whipped himself with a belt, for he had many sins which he cannot defeat. In his heart, God was full of anger and detestation, God was like a merciless judge who was waiting at the side of a lake of fire, a hell for sinners to be tortured.
He often cried, “Satan, leave me alone, don’t tempt me, don’t seduce the sins in me. Everyone knows my weaknesses: arrogance, evil lustfulness. Let me go!”
When his teacher heard this, he tried to comfort him: “Martin, why do you treat yourself so hard? Arguing with the devil won’t benefit us anything. Satan has already tempted human beings for 5000 years, he knows all our weak parts.”
Martin responded, “I am too full of sins to be pastor! I am afraid of judgment, I hate myself.”
His teacher said, “Do you think self-hating can save you? You are not evil, you are just not honest. God is not angry with you, you are angry with God. Martin, what you are seeking?”
Martin cried and answered, “A merciful God, a God whom I can love and who loves me!”
His teacher knelled down with him and took off his cross from his neck and put into Martin’s hand, saying, “Look to Christ, believe in Christ, and you will know God’s love. Say to Him, I am yours, save me! I am yours, save me!”
Sisters and brothers, you will experience many attacks and temptations, but they are not to defeat you, but are to be defeated by you. There is no special secret to defeat temptation. What you need to do is just turn your eyes to Jesus, not to look at Satan, and say to Jesus, “I am yours, save me! I am yours! Save me!”